Volume 32, 2016
Education and Social Justice
How Not to Think about Forgiveness
It is commonly held that the reason we ought to forgive those who wrong or harm us is to overcome the stranglehold that the vindictive passions or negative emotions have over us. On this common account, the driving reason to forgive someone else for the harm they have caused or the wrong they have done to us is to heal oneself. I find this account wrongheaded, as it runs the risk of treating forgiveness as a facile panacea which fails to reliably achieve the emotional benefits for the forgiver that it is meant to. Instead I offer what I call the Threefold View of Forgiveness. In proffering forgiveness, the forgiver must first “soften her heart” by overcoming hostile feelings toward the wrongdoer. But the forgiver must also actively and patiently work toward reconciliation with the wrongdoer. Finally, the forgiver must “wipe clean the slate” of the repentant wrongdoer by removing or suspending the wrong. I argue that the Threefold View of Forgiveness is superior because it is better suited to reliably achieving the psychological benefits we want from forgiveness on account of the social practice of reconciliation that underwrites it.